A Murder Most Foul

Happy Halloween!

In honour of this spooky time of year we decided to learn a more sinister folk song, perfect as one of my all time favourites is an old tune called Long Lankin.

Long Lankin is Child Ballad #93, although it’s called Lamkin in his collection and goes also by Lambkin, Lincoln or Linkin in other adaptations. It’s generally agreed that it is of English origin although there are Scottish versions from around the same period.  In the Scottish version of the song Lankin is a stonemason who builds a castle and the lord refuses to pay him so he exacts a bloody revenge.  In these versions “Lankin” is seen more as a hero character whereas the English versions portray him as a devil-like villain who butchers an innocent family.  Some people recently have suggested that “Lankin” was a leper seeking an arcane remedy for his affliction which consisted of “the blood of an innocent in a silver bowl” although of course there is no proof of this, but I like it as an interpretation.

It is first seen in print in Kent 1775 and in Scotland a year later but it is almost certainly much older than this.  The main Scottish theory places the events of the song at the construction of Balwearie Castle which took place in 1464.

This is the first song we’ve recorded where we’ve done the full arrangement; previously we’ve simply adjusted other peoples adaptations but this time we fancied taking the song right back to it’s beginnings and adding our own sinister twist to it.  The original song has many more verses than what we have recorded here, but we wanted to keep it short as we felt it had more impact this way.  We also added a few very simple percussive guitar techniques: a snare in the intro and final verse to symbolise a sort of death march and a double bass beat through the verses to add a foreboding heartbeat!

So here it is, our Halloween special, we hope you enjoy our version of Long Lankin!

An Evening With Bella Hardy

So this week we are a day late as we were in London all weekend to go and watch Bella Hardy at Bush Hall supporting her new album she released earlier in the year titled With The Dawn and it’s bloody brilliant!  We had decided that in honour of Bella we were going to perform a song of hers this week and had decided on her version of a great old song called Whiskey You’re The Devil; however, last night she played a song off her new album called Time Wanders On and we loved it so much that we decided to abandon Whiskey and try to learn TWO on the car journey home!

It’s an original composition by Bella Hardy and her friend Cara Luft (not Lara Croft as I kept accidentally referring to her as!) which they wrote while spending time in Canada surrounded by silent monks! It’s a homage to the beautiful Canadian landscape and cannot be listened to without a smile on your face at the vivid portraits she paints with her music and lyrics. We thought it was too pretty a song to play indoors on such a lovely day so we found a nice wooded area near our house and set up camp there for the afternoon with a friendly group of cows for an audience!

As you can imagine trying to learn a brand new song in a 1 hour car drive did pose a few problems, most notably not having a guitar to hand but we feel we’ve overcome them well enough to present our finished product to you now.  So here is our cover of Time Wanders On by Bella Hardy, off her new album With The Dawn (of which we are now proud owners of a signed copy, she’s a lovely lady!)

An Industrial Revolution

Two years ago I was presented by a friend of mine with a very run down old banjo guitar which he found in his grandparent’s loft and asked if I could do anything with it.  As I was off work with injury I thought it might be a fun project to try and restore the old girl.  I’d never done anything like this before but had a great time trying to reskin this Weltton Banjo Guitar (which apparently was made in the 1950s).  While it isn’t perfect I was very proud of what I accomplished, however I then got sidetracked and it just sat gathering dust.  Until now!

In another of my YouTube safaris I came across an old documentary by Alan Lomax about the musical traditions of the Appalachian region.  I had listened to a lot of this music in the past and my interest was reawakened for traditional American Folk tunes.  It was in this reawakening that I came across a recording of the Carolina Tar Heels doing a song called Peg & Awl from 1927 and immediately thought it would be a great one to break out the banjo for!

The song is written from the perspective of a shoemaker who loses his job to a machine – slightly inaccurately as the song is based in 1801-1804 whereas mechanical shoemaking wasn’t introduced in America until the 1840s!

Historical accuracy aside it’s a great song and was really fun to play, hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

An Irish Touch

As we have so far been to England, Scotland and America it seemed only right that we delve into the treasure trove of Irish folk music (don’t worry Wales we’ll get to you soon!).  We were initially swamped with ideas and really couldn’t decide where to start! In the end we went for probably the best known Irish song of all time: Molly Malone.

We chose this one partly because it is well known and so far we have done songs that many have never heard before.  But also because it holds many childhood memories for us as well as we used to sing this song when we were children.

I try very hard to research each song that we do as one of the main things we love about folk music are the stories behind the songs.  This one, however, proved surprisingly difficult to pin down.  What was commonly agreed was that this song has no basis on a true person, rather just an old tale put to song.  The most surprising thing I discovered was the possibility that this song was actually penned by a Scotsman! This is in no way fact as I haven’t found proof of this; the closest I can get is the suggestion that it was initially published in Edinburgh in the late 18th century.

Whether it is a Scottish composition or not, this is most definitely an Irish song, and one that we both thoroughly enjoyed making.  We hope you enjoy it as well!

A Trip Up North

So this week I have been obsessed with sea shanties and have spent many a happy hour trawling YouTube for various versions of Haul Away Joe, Spanish Ladies and hundreds more.  It was then that I came across a documentary that Gareth Malone did for the BBC called British Shanties and Sea Songs.

In this documentary they mention Homecoming Songs and Outgoing Songs which the seamen would sing either on the way back from a journey or as they were setting off on one.  This opened a new area of nautical music to me and I dove headlong into it.  During my travels I found this beautiful song called The Mingulay Boat song; specifically an excellent version by Richard Thompson which he recorded for an album called Rogues Gallery (which I highly recommend!)

I fell in love instantly and absolutely had to share it with all of you, so here it is, our version of The Mingulay Boat Song: a homecoming song from Scotland.

A Song For Keira

This week we went to the Christening of the lovely Keira; to whom Becca is a proud Godmother! So we thought that a good way to celebrate this would be to play a lullaby for her.  For this we chose Fairy Tale Lullaby by John Martyn.

While there are many other more “traditional” lullabies which we could have chosen, this song is a firm favourite of ours and one that we have played together for a long time.  We love the playful lyrics and the guitar part is great fun to play!

So here is our dedication to Keira, Fairy Tale Lullaby by John Martyn 🙂

A Musical Journey

For a long time myself (Rob) and Becca have been big fans of folk music in all it’s guises.  Recently we have been looking for a musical venture to undertake together and thought that this would be a fun way to learn new songs and new stories; so here we are!

Some astute readers among you may have noticed that we have slightly bastardised a project by the wonderful Jon Boden of Bellowhead and Spiers & Boden fame who set about doing A Folk Song A Day a few years ago.  We are not in any way affiliated with him, but we hope he likes it (he follows us on Twitter so I’m taking that as his blessing!).

So how will we chose songs? Basically whatever we want to play, we’ll play! Be it a traditional English ballad, an Appalachian tune or a modern composition – if it’s a good song and has a good story behind it then we’ll play it!

Which brings us to our first piece, which we chose to be a wonderful song called You Stay Here by American wordsmith Richard Shindell.  This is a fantastic song about the plight of the refugees from the Kosovo conflict and is sung from the perspective of a father and husband trying to keep his family safe. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song with powerful lyrics and a gorgeous guitar line that myself and Becca couldn’t help but fall in love with.

So without further ado, may we present our first Folk Song A Week: You Stay Here by Richard Shindell